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Chicago Teachers Mull Latest Offer With Wednesday Court Date Looming

Delegates from the Chicago Teachers Union will meet today to decide whether to end a strike that has closed the nation’s largest school district for more than a week, knowing that a refusal means they should be prepared to defend their position in court.

Some 800 union delegates representing the 29,000 teachers and support staff in Chicago Public Schools met on Sunday, but continued the strike so they could review details of a proposed new contract negotiated with Rahm Emanuel.

The Chicago Mayor has turned to the courts for relief if the teacher’s group rejects the latest offer.

The meeting will be the second attempt by the union membership to try to get approval from delegates for the compromise deal, which must be approved by a simple majority to suspend the strike.

“There will definitely will be a vote today. I’m always an optimist,” teachers union President Karen Lewis told Reuters on Tuesday, adding that Sunday’s vote “was not split down the middle.”

Lewis, who backed the tentative agreement, said teachers “very well could” vote down the agreement and keep striking.

“Teachers like to see what it is they are going to be voting on because we’ve been burnt by CPS in the past,” she said.

Weighing in their decision could be Emanuel’s decision to seek a court order to stop the strike. A judge scheduled a hearing on the request for Wednesday morning.

The union issued a statement on Monday, calling Emanuel a bully and the legal move “vindictive.”

The union walked out on September 10 for the first time in 25 years to protest Emanuel’s demand for sweeping education reforms aimed at improving Chicago’s struggling inner-city schools. Some 350,000 public school students were out of school for a seventh day on Tuesday in the largest U.S. labor dispute in a year.

Emanuel believes poorly performing schools should be closed and reopened with new staff and principals, or converted to “charter” schools that often are non-union and run by private groups or philanthropists.

Teachers want more resources put into neighborhood public schools to help them succeed. Chicago teachers say many of their students live in poor and crime-ridden areas and this affects their learning.

President Barack Obama has been silent about the nasty dispute in his home city pitting his former top White House aide, Emanuel, against a major national labor union that also supports him.

The contract that union delegates will consider includes a compromise on Emanuel’s key demand that teacher evaluations be based on the results of their students on standardized tests of reading, math and science. Test results will be taken into consideration but not as much as Emanuel originally wanted.

Many Chicago public school students perform poorly on the tests and the union fears that Emanuel will close scores of schools with poor academic records once the strike is called off, leading to mass teacher layoffs.

The deal also calls for an average 17.6 percent raise for teachers over four years and some benefit improvements. Chicago teachers make an average of about $76,000 annually, according to the school district.

A decision by the teachers to reject the deal and continue the strike would throw the compromise deal into doubt.

If the strike continues, attention will turn to Wednesday’s court hearing where Cook County Circuit Judge Peter Flynn will consider whether the strike is legal.

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